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The importance of fostering creativity in the classroom

Today’s world is changing at an unprecedented rate — and for millions of educators around the world, now may be the single most critical period in history to embrace the benefits and importance of creativity in the classroom.

Carly Daff, Director of Product for Canva for Education shares her thoughts on the importance of fostering creativity in the classroom.

Looking back 10 years, no one could have predicted the sheer pace of change and the extraordinary circumstances that we’d be facing in today’s world — from adapting to the learning needs in the wake of a global pandemic to empowering and building a digital generation capable of starting billion-dollar companies overnight; creativity and abstract thinking have become prerequisites in a student’s repertoire of skills needed for the future of society. The last decade alone has seen entire industries completely transformed as a result of globalization and the digital revolution, access to technology and the potential for innovation has never been as accessible as it is today and educators in both physical, and now digital classrooms, play a vital role in fostering and encouraging this creativity.

What is creativity, really?

Creativity in itself is quite a broad subject. While it’s easy to look at creativity as a particular skill and assume if you can draw or sing, you must be creative, the reality is far more nuanced. It’s fair to say creativity has been the driving force behind the most groundbreaking innovations of our time. When you look around, we’re surrounded by innovation that would not have happened were it not for incredibly creative and determined people embracing ambiguity, challenging the status quo, not taking no for an answer and discovering new ways to solve all kinds of problems.

We’re living proof that it’s nearly impossible to predict the advancements and technologies of tomorrow — from having instant access to the internet from the palm of our hands or having people all around the globe remain connected with a simple click of a button, love it or loathe it, the advancements we’ve made in technology affect almost everything we do today. It also influences most of our plans for the future, and yet what we take for granted today — TV streaming, GPS in our cars, libraries of content from all over the globe and online shopping — were not the norm, or so seamlessly integrated into our everyday life a decade ago.

So, what does the next decade hold with creativity at the crux of innovation?

While there are certainly inherent benefits of traditional rote learning and using standardized testing as a measure of performance, we know the next generation will need far more abstract and interchangeable skills; from fighting climate change to keeping up with the global digital revolution, the future generation of problem solvers will need to overcome some of the world’s toughest obstacles by thinking in new and creative ways with bold ideas and the determination to challenge the impossible.

Even those in more rigid STEM-based careers have benefited from this kind of out-of-the-box thinking. Elon Musk is building underground tunnel systems with car elevators and making space travel more accessible as a way to pioneer solutions for the environmental challenges we’re facing on Earth. While these examples require determination, specific expertise and a lot (!) of money, this type of innovation wouldn’t be possible without creativity.

How do we empower the next generation to deliver the not-yet imagined?

The role and importance of creativity in the classroom

To find out more about the importance of nurturing creativity in the classroom, I spoke with Amber Kemp-Gerstel, a clinical child psychologist come modern day ‘Art Attack’, content creative and TV personality with more than a decade of experience in creative therapy. Our conversation shed some light on the role and importance of creativity in a classroom, with Amber explaining a classroom environment is one of the most important places to start encouraging and nurturing creativity in young people.

A brainstorm highlighting the importance of creativity.

As adults, it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and let the guardrails of society stunt our ability to think abstractly and pursue bold ideas that contradict the ‘norm’. Conversely, children are best-positioned to develop their ways of thinking and solving problems as they are naturally inquisitive, open to learning, imaginative and they do not often feel embarrassed by novelty, since everything is new and consequently nothing is really abnormal. Generally speaking, with some teachers spending over 10,000 hours in a child’s life as they progress from kinder to high school, it’s crucial they nurture this behaviour and near limitless thinking, further support and encourage it as it plays an important role in developing the soft skills needed in life outside of the classroom.

In addition, the late Sir Ken Robinson was also vocal on the importance of interweaving creativity into the education system, stating education “takes us into a future we can’t grasp”, and thus creativity is imperative to overcoming blockers or challenges in the future. Research also suggests creativity thrives when it is socially-engaged, which makes the classroom the perfect breeding ground for innovative and creative teaching.

We recently conducted a survey in the US of 1000 educators teaching kindergarten to year 12 and asked them what they thought were the benefits of creativity in the classroom (whether online or physical), their findings were as follows:

Key findings about the importance of creativity in the classroom from 1000 educators of K-12 across the US.

Embracing creativity in the classroom is a great way to challenge the notion of static learning: the idea that there’s merely one correct way to solve a problem or come to a solution. Whilst one plus one will always equal two, there are a multitude of ways to teach that concept. The advent of the internet and the omnipresence of connected devices has opened up new opportunities for people of all ages to have instant access to new information and different ways of thinking and doing things.

Amber also explained the additional benefits of creativity in the classroom when it comes to encouraging students to think independently and problem solving autonomously. By empowering students to push the boundaries, question the norm and think outside the box, educators are able to build and encourage confidence and self esteem in students. We know not everything always goes to plan the first time around, so it’s critical to encourage young people to acknowledge this and find alternative and unique solutions to the challenges at hand, meanwhile building resilience and confidence in their ability.

All in all, creativity has become a prerequisite for innovation and will be an increasingly in-demand skill for jobs of the future. Creativity doesn’t need to be a subject of its own, instead, it should be weaved into absolutely every aspect of learning and teaching.

How do you encourage creativity in the classroom?

Amber Kemp-Gerstel’s top tips for educators on how to nurture creativity in the classroom.

Encourage multiple ways to solve problems

Flexibility is crucial when it comes to encouraging creativity. It’s about fostering the ability to come up with different solutions and unique ideas — by encouraging students to continue on their journey to discovery when their first idea doesn’t work, investigate alternatives, try, try and try again until you succeed. This results in students being more resilient and having more confidence when it comes to independent problem solving.

Create meaningful assignments that allow students to play to their strengths

No two people are the same, and therefore no two students should need to learn in an identical way. Create tasks that play to the unique strengths of each student — whether it’s a topic they’re interested in or through the format or approach, it’s easier to encourage genuine creativity when you can create interest and engagement in the challenge.

Build a safe and open space where failure is embraced and celebrated

The role of creativity in a classroom, from my perspective, is about creating a safe and welcoming environment where ideas can flow freely and students can try and test their own creative solutions, without the pressure of ‘having to get it right’. Sometimes classrooms can feel there’s only one answer or a rigid answer; it’s important we allow students to explore different solutions to grow and flourish.

Weave creativity into every subject area

Every subject can be creative! Creativity doesn’t mean the entire curriculum needs to be rewritten, instead, it could be something as simple as using clay to create shapes or playing word-search bingo as a spelling activity. Even the more defined and structured topics like maths and science have areas where creativity can be embedded into the topic to encourage a greater depth of understanding with students.

Adapt activities and methods of learning to cater to individual students

Perhaps because we often align creativity to artistic abilities, we may assume a child who draws and loves painting is creative, though this can be shortsighted. Creativity and the ability to have a vested interest in learning comes in all forms and will mean something different to every child. Educators need to be cognizant of the differences and apply their teaching accordingly. For example, some students may be visual learners, others might prefer learning by doing/tactically, or watching or listening to absorb information.

Challenge yourself with the perspective of the adult in the room

Creating an engaging and creative classroom can be challenging, especially in a remote learning environment where you’re teaching children through a screen. One of the best things I’d encourage educators to do is to embrace creativity yourself. How would you teach your class if you couldn’t talk? Would you draw? Would you use symbols? Would you write a secret message using emojis and have your students figure it out? Would you play charades? If we challenge ourselves as adults, encouraging creativity, we have no choice but to be creative in the way we teach.

Embrace group projects

Group projects are fantastic for encouraging collaboration and problem solving as a group. Working as a team encourages students to reckon with other people’s ideas and ways of working; when you’re put in a room with diverse opinions and different thoughts, you have no choice but to be creative in your approach to solving the problem.

Make use of free digital tools

There are so many amazing digital tools out there that can make traditional tasks even more creative. From the digital worksheets and presentations available in Canva to YouTube videos and downloadable teaching resources.

We had the privilege of working with Amber and the loveable Care Bears characters to develop two creative resources exclusively for educators within our Canva for Education community. The purpose of these resources is to empower educators, regardless of whether they’re teaching remotely or in the classroom, to further encourage creativity in the classroom.

One of the many resources developed to amplify and stimulate creativity in the classroom. Created in collaboration with Amber Kemp-Gerstel exclusively for educators.

How to best utilize Worksheet 1 — the Imagination Workout, according to Amber:

“Abstract thinking is a great way to flex those creativity muscles. Providing children with prompts that don’t have a particular form, purpose or shape is an awesome activity for introducing creative thinking.

This particular activity is great for ANY age — from kindergarten all the way through to college!

Want to make it more challenging? After the students complete one worksheet, give them another and ask them to come up with a completely different set of drawings.

By encouraging flexible thinking in the classroom, students build their own confidence to participate and engage with their environment, peers and teachers.”

Over 95% of educators believe creativity is a crucial to a student’s future. This template has been created in collaboration with Amber Kemp-Gerstel exclusively for educators.

How to best utilize Worksheet 2 — the “Five Ways Too…” Creativity Warm-up, according to Amber:

“Classroom curriculums are often centered around rote memorization of facts. Creative thinking often flourishes when we toss aside reason and embrace flexible thinking.

The “Five Ways” Creativity Workout encourages children to devise multiple solutions to a simple problem. Their first solutions may be practical but their later ideas may be silly but also innovative and inventive.

Additionally, by encouraging and praising innovative thinking in the classroom, students can build confidence.”

Other ways to teach and encourage creativity in the classroom include:

  • Set time aside for journaling
  • Participate in five minutes of mindfulness each day
  • Build brainstorming sessions
  • Use gamification to encourage participation
  • Encourage risk taking
  • Leave the classroom more often
  • Allow students to teach
  • Use visual aids
  • Encourage questions

Read more about these ideas here; in addition you can check out Canva’s other innovative classroom ideas to promote creativity here.

Final thoughts

The rate at which our world is changing will only continue to exponentially increase over the next decade. Today’s students will be taking on careers that we’ve not yet imagined as we work to solve some of the world’s greatest problems, from climate change to inequality and large scale conflict, through to advancing technologies across every possible industry. With that in mind, we owe it to the next generation to empower creative thinking and problem-solving in all walks of life — and whilst it doesn’t necessarily start when a student reaches school, it is during this critical time where it needs to be nurtured and encouraged.

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